Two things I’ve been doing a lot lately: listening to Steely Dan and thinking about getting old.
I got the “save the date” for my 20 year high school reunion. I seem to recall at my ten year reunion, we were right across the hall from another class having their 20 year reunion. They all looked so ancient to me. Now I am one of those guys, or a year away from it.
We live in a youth-obsessed culture and everyone aged 25 and up seems to be in complete denial about the fact that they aren’t 24 any more. So when milestones happen, I actually appreciate the reminder that the march of time continues on and there’s nothing I can do about it. Although generally speaking, I’ve enjoyed life more as I get older and I no longer mind so much.
There’s a time in your life when you hear some music and you just aren’t ready for it. Maybe you can appreciate it on some level but it doesn’t really talk to you. And then you hear it again after a hiatus and you really figure out what they’re up to.
Steely Dan worked that way for me. I always like them, but didn’t quite see what the big deal was. But now, in my late 30′s, in the cusp of middle age, it’s like I’m hearing them for the first time.
Like the song “Hey, Nineteen”. Take a listen!
This verse in particular caught my attention:
That’s ‘Retha Franklin*
She don’t remember
The Queen of Soul
It’s hard times befallen
The sole survivors
She thinks I’m crazy
But I’m just growing old
Note that this song came out in 1980, a few years before that “Freeway of Love” song came out. And unless you listened to the R&B stations, the only thing you might be aware of Aretha Franklin doing in the whole decade of the 70′s was the song “Think” in that once scene in The Blues Brothers.
To modernize the reference, someone nineteen today was one year old when Kurt Cobain died, and thus don’t remember the King of Grunge.
The thing is, while I don’t mind getting old, I’m not sure I really want to become irrelevant.
If you learn a foreign language, you figure out at some point that learning words and grammar only gets you so far, that you also need to know about the sorts of things people might be talking about in that language. If you are actually going to have a conversation with a Thai person, for instance, you need to know Thai, but you should also know who the King is, the geography of Thailand, their very confusing political situation, Thai kickboxing, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to know something about Buddhism.
Being a somewhat-typical Gen X type, I tend to look at things through a prism of pop culture, so pop cultural references end up seeping into everything I talk about. But pop culture, almost by definition, doesn’t have a very long shelf-life.
At some point in the future, nobody under 30 will have seen the movie Pulp Fiction or a single episode of The Simpsons. There will be this vast, ever-expanding group of people who have almost no idea what I’m talking about most of the time.
Since hardly anyone knows what I’m talking about already, I suppose I’m pretty well-prepared for this to happen. But still! I would rather people be bemused by my usual inept conversation skills, not because they have never seen the TV show “Remote Control” featuring Colin Quinn and a very young Adam Sandler.
And that’s just my end of the conversation. As I mentioned, pop culture doesn’t last and gets replaced with something else. It’s hard work to keep up. And there’s something kind of unseemly about even trying to keep up. Listening to Steely Dan in one’s late 30′s is one thing. Listening to dubstep in one’s late 30′s is another thing.
Seriously, late-30′s-dubstep-listening-guy, knock that crap off. You know who you are.
Actually, it’s probably happening to everyone. Our culture has been atomizing. Everyone is into some sub-sub-sub-genre (Old School Finnish Death Metal, maybe) and spends all their time on the Internet talking to the same four other people who are also into that sub-sub-sub-genre.
It can’t help but make it harder to find a common ground to talk to actual people in real life. People like your next-door neighbors, for instance. At least I can find something to talk about with other people born in the 70′s. I have no idea what people born in the 90′s talk to each other about.
One final note on “Hey, Nineteen”. The last verse talks about “The Cuervo Gold, the fine Columbian”. I assume Columbian is short for “Columbian Marching Powder” and not “Columbian coffee”. I’m not sure you could play these sorts of things on the radio. More evidence that the 80′s were a much less Puritanical time than what we’re living in now.